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Cracking roads have engineers warning of a 'pothole plague' — here's why it won't get better anytime soon

A survey from AAA found that 44 million drivers required vehicle repairs in 2022 due to significant pothole damage.

A survey from AAA found that 44 million drivers required vehicle repairs in 2022 due to significant pothole damage.

Photo Credit: iStock

Potholes are a very annoying part of the driving experience. Cruising down a bumpy road isn't pleasant and neither is the repair bill when a big pothole damages your car. 

Unfortunately, the "pothole plague" is only getting worse, and it turns out that climate change is a major cause. However, there are a slew of solutions on the horizon. 

What's happening? 

A BBC story shed some headlights on this pavement problem after 2023 marked a five-year high in reported potholes. According to data compiled by Round Our Way, 630,000 potholes were reported in the U.K. that year.

It's not much better in the U.S., as a survey from AAA found that 44 million drivers required vehicle repairs in 2022 due to significant pothole damage — up 57% from 2021. An average repair bill of $406 means Americans spent over $17.8 billion on their cars because of potholes.  

Why are potholes getting worse? 

There are a handful of reasons why potholes are getting worse. However, the driving force behind the increased prevalence of potholes is the increasing changes in our climate, the BBC reports.  

As global temperatures rise due to heat-trapping gases produced by burning dirty energy sources like coal, oil, and gas, extreme weather events become more common and even more extreme. 

"Excessive heat can ultimately cause buckling of the roads," according to Hassan Davani, an associate professor in San Diego State University's department of civil, construction, and environmental engineering. "We're also experiencing more extreme flooding events, which causes a higher velocity of stream flow over the roads, resulting in more severe erosion of the pavement."

What is being done about the potholes? 

U.K.-based startup Robotiz3d has created a robot that uses AI to find cracks and potholes in the road and repair them. While mostly still in the research-and-development phase, the ARRES PREVENT robot is expected to hit the road in Hertfordshire this year, per the BBC.

According to the BBC, citing a 2022 study, scientists and engineers have also been working on self-healing pavement options, which include the "incorporation of healing agents, induction heating, microwave heating, and other healing technologies." 

Another exciting solution has come as a byproduct of the Bill Gates–backed startup Modern Hydrogen. The company's main focus is pulling solid carbon from methane to create clean hydrogen. It turns out that the solid carbon can be used to make a more durable asphalt. 

Modern Hydrogen CEO Tony Pan told the BBC, "We increase stiffness by 34%. That means the roads are stronger, more durable, and asphalt is able to withstand higher temperatures."

While these solutions provide hope for our pothole plague, they will not fix the problem overnight. In the meantime, we all need to take action to slow down the overheating of our planet. 

The best way to avoid paying for pothole damage and help the environment is to leave your car parked and walk or take public transportation. It's also easier to dodge potholes while riding a bike. Those options will save you money and help cool down the planet. 

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